American Idol's Top Three Welcome Home!
updated 05/26/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 05/26/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT
More than 10,000 fans packed the Murray High School football field to see the 17-year-old junior, whom cheerleader Sarah Tucker calls "the biggest thing Murray ever had." So big, in fact, that he had to stay in a hotel instead of his own bed due to security concerns. "I miss having him around," says fellow school-choir member Danielle Smith. "Around school, he'll sing one line of a song, and everybody goes quiet, hoping he'll sing more."
DAVID'S DAD: UNDER FIRE
Dogged by rumors of stage-dad behavior, Jeff Archuleta, 46, had his behind-the-scenes access limited by Idol after he allegedly interfered with music arrangements. Family friend Richard Parkinson denies those allegations, deeming the treatment "unfair." He calls Jeff "intense" but "a great guy.... David is a minor. He has to be involved." David told a Utah TV station, "I push myself harder than he does."
The 12-hour journey along the Gulf Coast brought "tears of joy" to Syesha Mercado's eyes. It was the first time in four months that the 21-year-old had seen her entire family. She signed a glossy photo of herself for her parents: "To Mommy and Daddy, I love y'all! Thanks for raising me to be a strong woman!" Says proud dad Jose: "I'm going to frame it and put it in the living room." Ex-schoolmates weren't surprised. "She's always had magnetism," says Rahel Manna, 21. "Everyone has always said she's going to be famous."
Blue Springs, Mo.
Cook, 25, arrived with flowers for two special women in his life—his mom, Beth Foraker, and his elementary school music instructor Fredalyn Gentry. Other women just hoped for a glimpse. "I drove 1,500 miles to see David Cook," one sign declared. Cook got a surprise gift too: Fans raised $29,000 for the American Cancer Society in honor of his brother Adam, who has been fighting brain cancer. "You have no idea how much this means to me," Cook told the crowd. "I owe you the world."